One ugly story consumes the people of this normally placid Eastern Shore town today. They call it "the thing about the girl," and with every retelling it takes on more emotion and prompts more winces of shock and disbelief.

The story: Last month, over a three-to-five-day period starting Sept. 18, a 19-year-old female student at Salisbury State College had sex with as many of 100 male students at several off-campus houses.

It has not been determined whether the woman was held captive and raped or was a willing partner in the acts. It is said by faculty members who knew the woman that she had a history of mental disorders, and it is said by several witnesses that among her partners were several members of the school's championship wrestling team.

The local police have been investigating the story for several days, interviewing as many students as possible and subpoenaing medical records from Peninsula General Hospital, where the woman was treated before she was sent home to her parents in Ocean City. So far, no charges have been pressed, and according to Wicomico State's Attorney Richard D. Warren, they mey never be.

"Rape is always a difficult thing to prove under the best of circumstances," he said yesterday. "And it it more difficult to prove if instead of being able to show the victim resisted, the victim consented."

Whatever the facts, the sotry today, in all its various forms, has this town of conservative attitudes in a state of turmoil and distress.

One longtime Salisbury resident said most townspeople think the incident was "an atrocity." The local newspaper, The Daily Times, called it "the depth of human degradation." At a morning class the other day, Edmund Delaney, the college's psychology department chairman, denounced the people allegedly involved in the incident, comparing them to Nazis abusing Jewish girls.

"It's the drawing together or circumstances that make it sound so sinster," lamented Oren E. Robinson, the dean of student affairs. "Wrestlers . . . mental illness . . . the campus is inflamed. Reason has gone out the window. Everyone is operating viscerally."

The sotry first started circulating through the squat brick dormitories on campus during the third week of September and had nearly died out when, three weeks later, a student and her alumnus husband wrote a letter to the school newspaper, The Flyer.

The letter charged that on Sept. 18 a group of male students sexually abused the woman at an off-campus house. "Two or three would be raping her while others waited in line outside the door," the letter said. "After a period of time the boys there began to call up other friends and tell them about the girl."

There was an intense debate within the newspaper's editorial board as to whether the letter should have been printed. "They were concerned about how the parents and the town would take it," said senior Julie Coffren, The Flyer's editor. "The town always picks up the bad stuff and blows it out of proportion."

In fact, shortly after the letter appeared, the 30,000-circulation Salisbury Daily Times ran an editiorial declaring that "the good name of Salisbury State College has been tarnished . . . This is not the first of many disturbances by college students who attend Salisbury State."

After the story hit the newspapers and became the gruesome talk of the town, several witnesses stepped forward, although all of them claimed that they watched but did not participate.

One such witness, who asked not to be identified, said in an interview yesterday that he was at the off-campus house on Sept. 18 when the first sexual encounters with the woman occurred. He said the woman walked into the house uninvited, went into the bedroom, stepped out of a white denim skirt, and demanded sexual partners. The house, he said, was rented by several members of the school's wrestling team.

"The rule was you had to take off your clothes to get into the bedroom," said this witness. "There were as many as 15 guys in the room at a time. People were double-parked out in front of the house. There were guys out there directing traffic."

To some students at the college, the girl was at fault. "What kind of girl was she that would do that?" said one dismayed female student. But outrage is palpable in Manokin Hall, the brick dormitory where the woman lived.

"You can use my name, I was totally gorssed out," said Kelly Herford, a sophomore who moved into the room where the woman had lived when the woman was removed from school. "The guys think it's a big game."

No longer, it would seem. The jocularity of the early days after the incident, when many of the male students bragged about the experience, has since turned to fright and shame, Many athletes are being scorned by their peers.

"It's guilt by association," said Mike McGlinchey, the wrestling coach, whose team has been receiving the brunt of the wrathful publicity.

"I've had calls from the community. The wrestlers have been made the focus, but no one has come forth with any evidence. People are looking for blood."

The team -- a contender for the Dividion III title this year with three national champions returning from last year, is dispirited, he said.

While television crews interviewed students on the campus green yesterday, President Norman C. Crawford was in his office preparing the only official comment on the subject, a statement that said in part: "The legal posture of the college in matters of alleged criminal activities beyond our campus jurisdiction is that such matters are appropriately handled by local authorities."

About two-thirds of Salisbury State's students live off campus, some with their parents. It is the administration's position that the college should not be held responsible for conduct of students who are in their own homes.